The Guardian March 20, 2002

A brief history of bio-chemical weapons

by Zoltan Grossman*

400s BC: Spartan Greeks use sulphur fumes against enemy soldiers.

1346: Crimean Tatars catapult plague-infected corpses into Italian trade 

1500: Spanish conquistadors use biological warfare against Native peoples.

1763: British General Jeffrey Amherst orders use of smallpox blankets 
against Native peoples during Pontiac's Rebellion.

1800: Small Pox and other diseases ravage Native American communities; US 
officials use quarantine techniques to isolate diseases in white 
communities but not in Native villages.

1907: Hague Convention outlaws chemical weapons; US does not participate.

1914-18: Poison gas causes 100,000 deaths and 900,000 injuries during World 
War I.

1920s: Britain proposes use of chemical weapons in Iraq "as an experiment" 
against Kurdish rebels seeking independence; Winston Churchill "strongly" 
backs "the use of poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes".

1928: Geneva Protocol prohibits gas and bacteriological warfare: most 
ratifying countries prohibit only the first use of such weapons.

1935: Italy begins conquest of Ethiopia using mustard gas.

1936: Japan invades China, uses chemical weapons in war.

1939-45: During World War II: A US ship damaged by German bombing raid on 
Bari, Italy, leaks mustard gas, killing 1000. Germany uses Zyklon-B in 
extermination of civilians. Japanese military conducts biological warfare 
experiments on POWs, killing 3000. US shields Nazi military officers from 
war crimes trials in return for data. Soviets take over German nerve gas 
facility in Potsdam, discovering the Nazis had stockpiles of nerve gas, and 
had also been working on blood agents.

1947: US possesses germ warfare weapons; President Truman withdraws Geneva 
Protocol from Senate consideration.

1949: Soviet Union tries Japanese military officers for germ warfare, 
dismissed by US as "propaganda". US army begins secret tests of biological 
agents in US cities.

1950: Korean War begins; North Korea and China accuse US of germ warfare. A 
disease outbreak in San Francisco matches bacteria used by army.

1951: African-Americans exposed to potentially fatal stimulant in Virginia 
test of race specific fungal weapons.

1956: Army manual explicitly states that bio-chemical warfare is not 
banned. Gerald Ford wins US policy change to give US military "first 
strike" authority on chemical arms.

1959: US Congress resolution against first use of bio-chemical weapons is 

1961: Kennedy administration begins funding hike for chemical weapons from 
$75 million to more than $330 million.

1962: Chemical weapons loaded on US planes during Cuban missile crisis.

1966: Army germ warfare experiment in New York subway system.

1968: Pentagon asks to use some of its arsenal against protesters to 
demonstrate the "efficacy" of the chemicals.

1969: Utah chemical weapons accident kills thousands of sheep; President 
Nixon declares US moratorium on chemical weapons production and biological 
weapons possession. UN General Assembly bans use of herbicides (plant 
killers) and tear gasses in warfare: US one of three opposing votes. 
Fatalities when US uses tear gas against Vietnamese in guerrilla tunnels.

1971: US ends direct use of herbicides such as Agent Orange, which had 
spread over Indochinese forests and destroyed at least six per cent of 
South Vietnamese cropland. US military forces give swine-flu virus to anti-
Castro paramilitary group, which lands it on Cuba's Southern Coast 
(according to 1977 reports).

1972: Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention. Cuba accuses CIA of 
instilling swine fever virus that leads to death of 500,000 hogs.

1974: US finally ratifies 1928 Geneva Protocol.

1975: Indonesia annexes East Timor; planes spread herbicides on croplands.

1975: Washington Post reports on US program against Cuban agriculture since 
1962, including CIA biological warfare component. Anthrax outbreak among 
Africans in white-ruled Rhodesia results in 10,000 cases, 182 of them fatal 
(see "Covert Action Quarterly #43").

1980: US intelligence officials allege Soviet chemical use in Afghanistan, 
while admitting "no confirmation". Congress approves nerve gas facility at 
Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Iraq begins eight-year war with Iran.

1981: Vietnam accuses the US and allies of using Mycotoxins (fungal 
poisons) in Laos and Cambodia. Israel bombs Iraqi nuclear reactor, leading 
to Iraqi decision to build chemical weapons.

1984: UN confirms that Iraq is using mustard and nerve gases against 
Iranian "human wave" attacks in border war; US State Department issues mild 
condemnation, yet restores diplomatic relations with Iraq, and opposes UN 
action against Iraq. Bhopal fertiliser plant accident in India kills 2000, 
showing risks of chemical plants being damaged in warfare. President Reagan 
orders over a half-million M55 rockets retooled to contain high yield 
explosives as well as VX gas.

1985: US firms begin supplying Iraq with numerous biological agents for a 
four-year period.

1986: US resumes open-air testing of biological agents.

1987: Three tied Senate votes on question of resuming production of 
chemical weapons; Vice President Bush break ties in favour of resumption.

1988: Iraq uses chemical weapons against Kurdish minority in Halabjah; 
President Reagan blocks congressional sanctions against Iraq.

1989: Paris conference of 149 nations condemns chemical weapons, urges 
quick ban to emerge from Geneva treaty negotiations; US planned to produce 
poison gas even after treaty signed.

1990: US, Soviets pledge to reduce chemical weapons when all nations have 
signed future Geneva treaty. Israel admits possession of chemical weapons; 
Iraq threatens to use chemical weapons on Israel if it is attacked.

1991: US and coalition forces bomb at least 28 alleged bio-chemical 
production or storage sights in Iraq during Gulf War, including fertiliser 
and other civilian plants. CNN reports "green flames" from one chemical 
plant and the deaths of 50 Iraqi troops from anthrax after air strike on 
another site. Czechoslovak chemical warfare unit detects Sarin nerve gas 
during air war. Egyptian doctor reports outbreak of a "strange disease" 
inside Iraq. US troops use explosives to destroy Iraqi chemical weapons 
storage bunkers after the war.

1992: Reports intensify of US and coalition veterans developing health 
problems, symptoms collectively called "Gulf War Syndrome". Two members of 
anti-government Minnesota Patriots' Council arrested for planning to use 
ricin chemical against law enforcement officer.

1993: President Clinton continues intermittent bombing and missile raids 
against Iraqi facilities; UN inspectors step up program to dismantle Iraqi 
weapons. US signs UN chemical weapons convention, but approval later 
blocked in Senate.

1995: Japanese cult releases deadly Sarin nerve gas in attack on Tokyo 
subway system.

1996: Congressional hearings on Gulf War Syndrome focuses on Iraqi storage 
bunker destruction, no other possible causes, and does not call for 
international investigation for symptoms among Iraqis.

1997: Cuba accuses US of spraying crops with biological agents. Iraq expels 
US citizens in UN inspection teams, which are allowed to continue without 
Americans, but the UN chooses to evacuate all inspectors. US mobilises for 
military action. Senate implements Chemical Weapons Convention, with a 
provision that the "President may deny a request to inspect any facility" 
on national security grounds.

1998: US again bombs alleged Iraqi bio-chemical weapons sites, after Iraq 
questions role of UN inspector, and restricts inspector access to 
presidential properties and security. US launches missile attack on 
pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that allegedly produces nerve gas agents  a 
claim disputed by most of the international community.

1998-99: Series of Anthrax hoaxes against targets such as NBC, "Washington 
Post", State Department, White House complex, post offices. Former Aryan 
Nations member Larry Wayne Harris carries out anthrax hoax to dramatise 
warning of alleged "Iraqi threat". Three members of Republic of Texas 
militia group arrested for intention to use anthrax and other biological 
agents against public officials. Upsurge in anthrax hoaxes against abortion 

2000: "Top off exercise" involving federal and state authorities fails to 
cope with simulated chemical, biological and nuclear attacks in three 
widely separated metropolitan areas.

2001: US withdraws from first round of Biological and Toxic Weapons 
Convention (BTWC), crippling efforts to establish global measures against 
biological weapons. Anthrax spores mailed to political and media targets 
around the US result in exposures, infections, and deaths. Enormous 
increase in anthrax hoaxes by "Army of God" and other groups and 

* * *
*Compiled from articles in Z magazine by Stephen Shalom and Noam Chomsky (February 1991) and Zoltan Grossman (March 1991), from the Council for the Liveable World, William Blum's Killing hope: US Military and CIA interventions since World War II, ADL Militia Watchdog by Mark Pitcavage (Feb 1999) and from recent news reports. Grossman is a cartographer/geographer and writer on ethnic relations and geopolitics, based in Madison, Wisconsin. Acknowledgements People's Voice, Canada's communist paper.

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